What is the Value of Online Privacy?

Many people worry about what companies will do with all the data they are collecting on web behavior. Virtually every major website is keeping tabs your behavior through a variety of tags and various web analytics and tracking technology. Most are just tracking your actions on their site, but more and more companies are coming up with new innovative ways to track your behavior as you cross web domains, principally through the use of tracking cookies.

A recent Wall Street Journal article examining the 50 most popular US websites comments on the fact that many top internet firms aren’t even aware that 3rd party vendors are using their site to place such code on your computer. These 50 sites collectively placed over 3000 tracking files on a test computer with over 2/3rd of those files installed by 131 other companies “many of which are in the business of tracking Web users to create rich databases of consumer profiles that can be sold”.

Companies will claim that this monitoring is the price we pay for free services on the internet. Basic economics state this is not the case.

Companies have the ability to make a buck based on your work and are seizing it without even a thought towards compensating you for you data. Many don’t even ask for you permission and some have developed new flash-based cookies that redeploy themselves even after you have deleted them. At least supermarket, department and other big box stores have to ask, if you want to sign up for their “preferred customer tracking cards” and then use incentives to use them each time.

Since the data carries no value to a consumer, tremendous value to marketers and there is little harm in sharing, I say compensate consumers for their data. This practice is common place in surveys and study groups. All I’m saying is you should get your 1/10th of a penny.

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